BOSTON — The Bruins will play the Tampa Bay Lightning for the first time this season Tuesday night at TD Garden. It will be a tremendous test for the Bruins, who currently have a three-game win streak.
“(The Lightning are) playing great this year and we know it’s going to be a big challenge for us,” Bruins forward Brad Marchand said Monday.
The Lightning, who lead the Atlantic Division with 58 points in 44 games, made several strong additions in the offseason after being swept by the Montreal Canadiens in Round 1 of the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs.
General manager Steve Yzerman re-signed winger Ryan Callahan, traded for defenseman Jason Garrison, and signed center Brian Boyle and defenseman Anton Stralman as free agents. Third overall draft pick Jonathan Drouin also earned a spot on the NHL roster.
These players joined a Lightning team already stocked with talent, particularly at forward. Ondrej Palat and Tyler Johnson both were Calder Trophy finalists and emerged as reliable top-six forwards when No. 1 center Steven Stamkos missed several months with a leg injury. Johnson and Palat have carried that success into 2014-15.
“There’s a lot of young guys who’ve come in and played well. Johnson is one of the top scorers in the league this year,” Marchand said. “He was good last year, but he’s on a (another) level this season. That’s what you need, you need guys to step up every year and be better, and that’s why they’re doing well.”
Johnson’s status for Tuesday is unclear after he left Monday’s 7-3 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers early and didn’t return. The Lightning recalled Vladislav Namestnikov from their AHL affiliate Tuesday. Top-pairing defenseman Victor Hedman also left the Flyers loss with an injury, per Joe Smith of the Tampa Bay Times. The Lightning haven’t made an official announcement on his status for Tuesday’s matchup.
TV, Radio Information: NESN and 98.5 The Sports Hub
Season Series: First meeting
Record: Boston (22-15-6, fourth in Atlantic), Tampa Bay (27-13-4, first in Atlantic)
Bruins Player To Watch: Rookie forward David Pastrnak scored the first two goals of his NHL career Saturday and played alongside David Krejci on the top line. Pastrnak can play in two more games before the Bruins have to make a decision on whether to burn the first year of his entry-level contract this season. Judging by his first seven games, he’s the best candidate for the first-line right spot if the Bruins plan to fill that role from within the organization.
“He’s played well,” Bruins head coach Claude Julien said Monday. “I really liked his last game, not just because of the goals, but how he’s playing. He’s going to the net, going to the corners, doing a lot of things. Defensively you can see he understands what he has to do. He’s certainly treading in the right direction.”
Lightning Player To Watch: Steven Stamkos is arguably the best goal scorer in the NHL and is on pace for another 40-goal campaign with 23 tallies through 44 games. The Lightning captain has scored in three of his last four games with 18 points (12 goals, six assists) in 23 career matchups against the Bruins.
Key Stat For Bruins: Boston has given up two goals or fewer during regulation in each of its last five games. Starting goaltender Tuukka Rask has played in four of those games and posted a 2-0-2 record with a .951 even-strength save percentage. The Bruins must continue their defensive improvement against a Lightning team that ranks first in goals scored per game and has an effective power play led by Stamkos.
Key Stat For Lightning: Tampa Bay is among the best puck possession teams and has controlled 54.36 percent of even-strength shot attempts, which is the second-best mark in the league. The Lightning have a league-best plus-78 shot attempt differential since the beginning of January.
Thumbnail photo via Kim Klement/USA TODAY Sports Images